Amidst an evening in Cairo, a worker cleaned tables in an empty McDonald’s restaurant. Western fast-food chains in the Egyptian capital appeared deserted due to a boycott campaign over Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip since the deadly Hamas attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7. The campaign is spreading in some other Arab countries including Kuwait and Morocco, impacting Western brands in Egypt and Jordan. The companies are alleged to have financial ties to Israel or investments there. The boycott is prompting shoppers to shift to local alternatives.
Some see the boycott as the best or only way to make their voices heard. Pro-boycott residents in Jordan sometimes enter McDonald’s and Starbucks branches to encourage customers to take their business elsewhere. A worker at a large supermarket in Amman mentioned that customers were choosing local brands instead of U.S. brands.
The impact is not limited to Egypt and Jordan as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and KFC branches in Kuwait City were nearly empty. The number of customers at a Starbucks branch in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, had dropped off significantly.
McDonald’s Corp and Starbucks did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the campaign. Meanwhile, the reaction to the boycott campaigns has been unprecedented. The protests reflect a groundswell of anger over the Israeli military operation in Gaza, with the scale of the aggression against the Gaza strip being unprecedented. Hossam Mahmoud, a member of BDS Egypt, emphasized the magnitude of the reaction.
An employee at McDonald’s corporate offices in Egypt mentioned that the Egyptian franchise’s October and November sales fell by at least 70% compared to the same months last year. Sameh El Sadat, an Egyptian politician and co-founder of TBS Holding, noticed a drop or slowdown of about 50% in demand from his clients.
Boycott campaigns have continued catching on, with uneven take-up in different countries. Despite efforts by targeted brands to defend themselves, the impact of the boycotts continues to be felt.